England and New Zealand meet for the first time in four years when they collide at Twickenham on Saturday.
Here, Press Association Sport examines five talking points leading into the match.
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) October 18, 2018
Steve Hansen has raised expectations over an already highly-anticipated clash by declaring it bigger than last year’s British and Irish Lions tour. New Zealand’s draw in that series made it unsuccessful according to their head coach, who revealed in an ominous warning to England that the All Blacks have trained with a sharper edge this week out of hunger for revenge. Nine of Eddie Jones’ matchday 23 were involved in the Lions series.
England know that only by engineering tries can the world champions be defeated, leading to the recall of possibly the sport’s deadliest finishers. Chris Ashton has his shortcomings in defence and a readily accessible self-destruct button, but the predatory Sale wing possesses genuine X-factor and a strong afternoon against New Zealand would propel him towards World Cup selection. Eddie Jones knows the good and bad of the dual code international, quipping in reference to his 30-weeks of suspensions since he took over as England boss that “wherever there’s trouble, there’s Ashton”.
Jones’ eulogies to Owen Farrell continue to flow. “Warrior” and “rooster” have been added to “spiritual leader” in outlining the playmaker’s importance to England. Farrell inspired South Africa’s downfall a week ago through sheer force of will but the toll taken on his body has emerged, with Jones revealing he never plays fully fit. In a thinly-veiled swipe at officials, Jones insists he is allowed to be hit late compared to Ireland’s Johnny Sexton due to his resilience and willingness to get straight back up.
Yardstick, gauge, barometer – all words used by England to outline the value of the 41st meeting between the rivals. Every match is played out against the backdrop of next year’s World Cup, with a showdown against the reigning champions providing the ultimate measure of where the team lies in the pecking order. Jones notes that while a win on Saturday would not land a knockout blow on the All Blacks ahead of Japan 2019 – now only nine months away – he says it would score valuable sparring points.
Providing the gauge is the strongest available New Zealand team, who are only a couple of injuries away from fielding their most potent side. Double world player of the year Beauden Barrett directs operations at fly-half with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Ben Smith outside him. Leading the charge up front is the game’s greatest second row pairing of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. If injury-depleted England win, they will have done so against the best.
- Press Association